The boom time in real-estate has taken a retreat, at least for now. Though it has hit the entire building industry hard, those on the front lines taking it on the chin day-in and day-out are sales and marketing professionals. Esteemed when they sell, sometimes derided when the numbers aren't quite up to par, the builder/sales and marketing staff pairing can be a love/hate relationship.
But there's an abundance of love, respect and accolades for the people profiled here — four individuals and two sales teams who have done amazing things when others have claimed it couldn't be done. Sheena Guido, Kyle Krecklow, Rich Rudnicki, Peggy Sullivan, and the sales teams from The Ryness Company and Royce Builders went for the gold and won it with highest honors this year from the National Sales and Marketing Awards. If you want to hear good news on the sales front for a change, read on.
With two Nationals awards under her belt, even the New York skyline can't limit her potential.
GOLD WINNER: SHEENA GUIDO
Sales Person, The Marketing Directors, a Ryness Company, New York
Price range of homes: $575,000 – $3.3 million
Net sales: 80
Sheena Guido won a Nationals Silver Award for Rookie Sales Person of the Year in 2004. She's no rookie anymore, and this time she scored a gold.
Guido sells condominium units at 200 Chambers Street in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. With 258 units on the market, she sold 80 units valued at just more than $111 million over a 12-month period.
"I attribute my success to the developer, product and my ability to build relationships that instill trust strong enough for people to go forward," Guido says.
Her success does not mean there weren't challenges.
"When we first opened, close to 10 other properties were opening at the same time," Guido says. "Also, we had 258 homes to sell, and with the market being challenged by the media as well as our savvy buyers, that certainly was a challenge. I had to be consistent with what I was offering — constantly build value for the location.
"Being one of the first buildings of its caliber to come up in Tribeca has certainly helped in the success of the building, as has the constant training I've received from The Marketing Directors."
Judges noted the type of product Guido sells.
"She sold all preconstruction in Manhattan, which is a tough industry right now because there are so many high rises and conversions going up. She had almost no cancellations and had a 23 percent conversion rate," says Dominique Sampson, a Nationals judge and vice president of sales for The Green Companies.
"I think Sheena really understood the value of creating neighborhood," says John Sims, Nationals judge and vice president of sales and marketing with Fonville Morisey Builder Marketing Services. "She really did her comps. She knew all the competing projects inside and out and really used that to her advantage with her customers."
The Marketing Directors spotted Guido's talent early on. She started her career as an administrative assistant with the company.
"At the time I was working for my sales manager, and he advised me rapidly to get my real-estate license," says Guido. "So I started out in new-home sales. I became rookie salesperson of the year that year — in 2004 — at the silver level.
"What I love about new-home sales is being able to be an expert in one particular product," says Guido, "to really educate my buyers on what I'm selling. It's great to see a building from start to finish, knowing the building inside and out, and knowing what would fit my buyers best."
"She's this perfect little doll of a person with all this energy," says Adrienne Albert, president of The Marketing Directors. "In her mind, there's nobody that she can't sell. And it's not victory at any cost; it's victory at the right cost. People respect her — her clients, her developers and her coworkers — because she has tremendous personal integrity. Her sales skills are absolutely phenomenal.
"When you put all those things together, she's really a special person."
Relentless follow up with a personal touch transformed this novice into a sales player.
GOLD WINNER: KYLE KRECKLOW
Sales Counselor, Ryland Homes Twin Cities, Eden Prairie, Minn.
Price range of homes: $250,000 – $500,000
Net sales: 25
Just over a year ago, in February 2006, Kyle Krecklow came to Ryland Homes fresh out of college, completely new to the building industry.
"I wasn't really planning to go into real estate," Krecklow says, "but once I learned more about it, I thought it would be a good fit for me."
That good fit is evident a year later with Krecklow's gold award as Nationals' Rookie Sales Person of the Year.
Krecklow was no doubt a quick study and enthusiastic, but he says Ryland's on-the-job training was helpful.
"The big thing was working with other experienced salespeople who have worked with Ryland for a while," he says.
Krecklow brings extensive use of technology to his salesmanship.
"We live in a technological world," Krecklow says in his application. "Time does not stand still even for our industry. I recognize this issue; therefore I have made adjustments to the sales and follow-up process so that it is a more efficient and effective use of their time."
Krecklow brings his digital camera with him when he's showing homes. He takes photos of homes prospects like and e-mails them for viewing once they get home. He sends construction progress photos to home buyers who can't get to the site every week. He will soon launch his own newsletter to keep in contact with buyers and prospects. And he uses an interactive Web site with 360-degree virtual tours of models.
But he softens the digital touch with the personal touch, making himself available for his homeowners' birthday parties, weddings and open houses.
"I want to make sure they know that I'm there if they have any questions," Krecklow says, "but I don't always want to do it with a phone call. I try to find some other way to communicate with them, to let them know I'm there."
"I thought Kyle was really trying to do things differently," says Nationals judge John Sims of Fonville Morisey Builder Marketing Group. "He was doing a lot of good follow-up that would get people back into the sales office that I think was very unique for somebody brand new."
"He followed up with homeowners after the sale with a lot of interaction because he realized they were going to be his referrals," says Dominique Sampson, Nationals judge and vice president of sales for The Green Companies. "He had a 13 percent conversion. He sold four houses in the grand opening."
"To see someone just entering the industry excel and exhibit the level of professionalism and enthusiasm that Kyle brings is outstanding," says Wayne Soojian, president of Ryland Homes Twin Cities division. "We've had people over time who have sold more homes in their first year, but they had much different market conditions. To be upbeat and come to work with an aggressive attitude in today's market is worthy of accolades."
His contagious enthusiasm and positive outlook egg on his sales staff to victory.
GOLD WINNER: RICH RUDNICKI
Division Sales Manager, Winchester Homes, Bethesda, Md.
A sales manager is, in essence, a coach. And Rich Rudnicki loves coaching.
"That's one of my passions," Rudnicki says. "I love training. I love coaching. To be able to spark an idea and be a catalyst for the sales teams is just a real incredible thrill."
Rudnicki, who also is a certified sales professional trainer for NAHB, oversees sales at six communities, supervising nine community sales managers and eight sales assistants. He has been in new-home sales management almost 20 years but still has the enthusiasm of rookie.
"What's really great about being a division or general sales manager is you get to stay in the field," Rudnicki says. "You can help salespeople develop and stretch and become more professional, and you can help people fulfill their dreams of home ownership. To me, it's the best of all worlds. I sold for years, but the real reward is in division sales management. It's the best job in the home building industry."
His enthusiasm is refreshing in this challenging market.
"You never really see him in a down moment," says John Stewart, vice president of sales at Winchester Homes. "He always finds a positive to everything during one of the worst markets, at least that I've experienced. Everybody gets frustrated, but you don't always see it in Rich because he's always trying to figure it out, like it's a puzzle or something."
"We have rededicated ourselves to address tough market selling," says Rudnicki. "Each community is constantly reminded of its exclusive selling propositions. We focused on improving prospecting and follow-up skills, differential demonstration and closing."
A good coach not only trains well; he scouts good talent.
"We usually hire new home professionals with proven track records," says Rudnicki. "We find community sales managers from shopping the competition and develop a relationship. We conduct panel interviews and look for motivated, trainable team players driven by customer satisfaction."
"One of his sales management strategies was to hire the best, train them, coach them but evaluate them regularly for their performance against what the expectations were," says Jim Hale, Nationals judge and vice president of sales and marketing at Fonville Morisey Builder Marketing Group.
Rudnicki also says it's important to forge a bond of trust with your staff, sell your beliefs and "present ideas, not mandates."
"Then ... let the horses run!" he says in his written entry.
Some have called sellers in the previous boom market mere order takers, but Rudnicki says the skill level is increasing.
"We're starting to celebrate the buying experience," says Rudnicki. "We're raising the bar on the professionalism and attitude within our company and within the industry. That's rewarding."
Like the industry, she faced some serious challenges last year. But she came out on top.
GOLD WINNER: PEGGY SULLIVAN
President (former vice president of sales and marketing), Pathway Communities, Atlanta
Peggy Sullivan's career has been remarkable in many ways. She's been with Pathway Communities for 25 years and has learned the business from the bottom up.
"She and I have worked together for well over 20 years," says Doug Mitchell, founder and chairman of Pathway Communities. "Having watched Peggy go from the mailroom to the boardroom, figuratively, has been fun."
"In the '80s when there was a real recession," Mitchell adds, "we came up with this concept for the company: 'We understand there is a recession, but we've decided not to participate!'"
Sullivan started as an administrative assistant to the public relations director and eventually became vice president of sales and marketing. On Dec. 1, 2006, she was promoted to president of Pathway Communities.
"She's a great deal self-taught, a good listener and a very quick learner," says Mitchell. "She's grasped that whole concept of what is the best marketing for what we do in real-estate development and housing and has just done a marvelous job."
Mitchell attributes the company's most successful sales year in the company's history to Sullivan's marketing guidance; Pathway sold 556 homes across its five Atlanta communities. Sullivan has made it to the top of her game by being a very good student and she applies diligent research even today as she plans marketing programs for the company.
"Research is where it all starts and ends," she says. "How you reach your 20-something buyer is different from how you reach your 50-something buyer. Our market is becoming more segmented."
Peggy works at differentiating each community she markets — finding what's special and distinguishing about them and communicating that to prospects.
"Marketing directors have to think strategically," she says. "That means we actually plan the plan and act the plan. A lot of times we react instead of act. The building business is cyclical. You're going to have highs and lows. Keep your plan. If the plan is based on good strategy and good research, you'll get there."
As challenging as her job is, it doesn't compare to the life challenges Sullivan has faced. Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Not surprisingly, she has handled this like a pro as well — barely missing a beat with her marketing responsibilities. "Working for me is healthy," she says.
"Within two weeks of surgery, she was using her Blackberry to spearhead marketing and sales initiatives," says Mitchell in his written nomination of Sullivan for this award. "For six months, Peggy traveled two times a week for treatment and had to carry an infection vacuum everywhere she went. "She went right back to work having gone through breast cancer," says Nationals judge Laura Lynn Reising of Petros Homes. "She won the fight. It hit me because we're in a tough market right now. We're in for a fight. If she can hang on through cancer, she'll hang through and get through this storm that we're in."
This sales threesome creates synergy and sales.
GOLD WINNERS: THERESA MAISEN, CSP, JAMES I. PARK, CSP, LINDSAY WILSON, CSP
Community Sales Manager, Sales Associate, Assistant Sales Associate, The Ryness Company-Urban West, Irvine, Calif.
Theresa Maisen, James I. Park and Lindsay Wilson together sell The Plaza Irvine, a condominium project with an average purchase price of $1.3 million per unit.
"These are sophisticated buyers who are expecting a high level of service," says Catherine Nicholas, president of The Ryness Company's Urban West division. "Whether it's through role-playing or brainstorming, they are constantly in search of new ways to reach out and make sales. And they have a remarkable 36 percent referral rate."
"They all have a great success ratio of people who come in and purchase on their first visit," says Janis Randazzo, president of The Ryness Company's Southern California division, who has remained their sales manager since taking leadership of this new division. "They also have an incredibly organized and systematic follow-up program. They have people who came in a year ago that come back and purchase."
"Sometimes when you put sales teams together, it's like an arranged marriage," adds Randazzo. "They're so diverse they can't seem to learn to sell together. This team has done a fantastic job of learning how to sell as a team. James has a very smooth, very polished presentation. Theresa's sold in so many different markets; she can converse with prospects on a very high level. Lindsay is fairly new, but she's so polished. For some of the older buyers, she's the daughter they never had. It seems that any type of personality that comes in that door, I have somebody there who can sell to them."
It keeps leads from falling through the cracks.
GOLD WINNERS: MARIA SIRGO, EDUARDO PENA, JOHNNY HACKETT, MICHELLE LO, ROBERT TAYLOR, PAUL CINCIRIPINI, LISA TRAN, GUS GARCIA, SARAH TA AND QUYEN NGUYEN
Sales Counselors, Royce Builders, Houston
Royce Builders has 53 neighborhoods in various stages of development in Houston, each with an average of two sales counselors on site. This award winning 10-member team works out of one model park location and sells homes in all 53 neighborhoods.
"We knew it was unique," says Shonna Speer, senior vice president at Royce. "And they had outstanding numbers this year. In the last two years, they basically increased our business 200 percent."
"They work old leads, they have their own Realtor relationships, they do start-ups, they do close-outs and they do Web leads," adds Speer. "The benefit to us is that you don't have Web leads going to 12 different neighborhoods someone expressed interest in, with that person getting contacted by 12 different sales counselors. You have one person following up immediately with them."
Among their challenges: no walk-in traffic and being simultaneous experts on all 53 communities.
Four different languages — English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese — are represented within the group. "We're really proud of the fact that we've built a multicultural group of people who can handle a variety of leads," Speer says.
Royce decided to try out this type of sales team about five years ago. "The first two years, it wasn't very successful," she says. "But it was a matter of finding the right sales team, a way to operate and a good management team, and it just clicked for us. It's become an important part of our business that adds incremental sales."